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Senator Katrina Shealy proposes bill changing some portions of sexual offender registry law pertaini

Lexington County, SC (Paul Kirby) – Senator Katrina Shealy of Lexington County has introduced a bill in the senate (S-468) that would change parts of the Sexual Offender Registry Law for juveniles. The proposed changes would exclude some children from being placed on the Registry who are 14 years-old or older if they commit certain sexual offenses; this is if they either plead no contest or are found guilty. The bill does not include adult offenders in any way. The bill came out of the Children’s Committee, a bipartisan group of legislators, private citizens, and agency heads. It was co-sponsored by Senators Darrell Jackson and Brad Hutto.

In the bill, family court judges would have some discretion to decide whether to place child offenders on the Sexual Offender Registry for specific sex crimes. Once on the Sexual Offender Registry, the offender must register each year for the rest of your life. There are several qualifications in the proposed bill that make it applicable only for certain offenses and it has various other conditions within it.

The bill is particularly aimed at and only includes children over the age of 14. Children under that age aren’t currently placed on the registry. This bill gives a family court judge discretion for offenses that some might considered minimal. As an example, the bill would allow the trial judge to keep a juvenile off the registry for offenses such as “mooning” someone. Although by law this act is considered indecent exposure, for decades, youngsters have pulled down their pants and exposed their buttocks in public. This poor decision is usually done to friends or acquaintances but sometimes, members of the unsuspecting public get “mooned” too. Other instances may include a child who urinates in their yard or another wooded area where someone spots them. By law, this too is considered indecent exposure. Another example could be teens sending risqué photos back and forth from boyfriend to girlfriend or vice versa over a smart phone, not posting these pictures on a public site over the internet. This action is often referred to as sexting but may be considered transmitting child pornography by law.

Senator Shealy says that children do make bad decisions and have since time began. In the past, many offenses like “mooning” were considered harmless pranks. She said that in some cases, a family court judge should be able to use some discretion so that children committing these acts wouldn’t have their lives ruined by a youthful indiscretions. “Once a child is on the Registry, they have to stay on it forever. That can prevent them from getting jobs, attending certain colleges, or even stop them from getting affordable housing or limit where they can live after they are grown. Some cruise lines wouldn’t even let the child travel on a family vacation if they are included on the Registry. The bill has provisions that excludes a child that rapes or commit serious sex crimes. This bill only addresses children who made a bad decision but were simply children acting like children,” Shealy said.

As Senator Shealy explained, there are crimes that are exempt from these proposed changes and allow a judge no leeway. Such instances include an offender using force, weapons, or other forms of violence and other factors the court considers relevant. Other mitigating factors that would remove the discretion of a judge include offenses like criminal sexual conduct in the first, second, or third degree. The judge would also have no choice but to add the juvenile to the Registry if they plead no contest or are found delinquent of assault with the intent to commit criminal sexual conduct in the first, second, or third degree. (read the text of the full bill by clicking this link)

Another portion of the bill proposes that if the family court orders the juvenile to be placed on the sex offender registry, then the family court judge could also determine if the information is made available for the public. This is also based on the committed offense. In some cases, the judge could decide the information would only be made available upon request to certain people or facilities. These people or entities who could access that information include victims of or witnesses to the offense, public or private schools, childcare facilities, or businesses or organizations that primarily serve children, women, or vulnerable adults. (read the text of the full bill by clicking this link).

Right now, the bill is in committee. If the bill comes out of committee, it would go to the full senate for debate before either being voted down or moving on to the house.

One of the opponents of the bill, a sexual assault victim herself, says there are no harmless pranks in sex crimes. “All sex crimes are serious, or they wouldn’t be called crimes,” the former victim said. “If the legislature begins to water down the language in the sex crime bill for juveniles, when will we move on to adults? When will we begin to excuse the bad behavior of adults for what some might call a “minor” sex offense. Should a crime be deemed "minor" or "major" by our lawmakers?” The victim said again that sex crimes are some of the most heinous there are. "If you are convicted of a sex crime, no matter how old you are, you should be included on the Registry and everyone should be able to see it."

The former victim says that the public has the right to know who’s living and working around them. “Would you want a 15 year-old living next to you who’s raped a 60 year-old?” she asked. “That should be public knowledge to anyone who wants to see it,” she concluded. “Age should have no bearing on whether that perpetrator goes on the Registry or not!” Her example of a child raping someone would be considered criminal sexual conduct. It is one of the crimes that that is specifically excluded in the bill and the judge wouldn’t have any discretion at all in that instance. The child would automatically be added to the Registry if they pled no contest or were found guilty of that crime.

Just the mention of sex crimes brings about a great deal of passion, especially from previous victims and survivors of these crimes. In this bill (S-468), the question is has the original Sexual Offender Registry Law shown instances where it’s gone too far and needs some adjustments? Is there still such a thing as youthful indiscretions anymore? Is a teenager urinating behind a tree or "mooning” another child off the back of a school bus something that the juvenile’s parents and the family court can deal with without branding the child a sexual offender for the rest of their life? That's what's being considered now. These chnages must be decided by our duly elected lawmakers after debates, votes, and if it gets that far, a signature by the governor to amend the wording of the existing law.

If you’d like to express your opinion on this bill, you can find your legislator’s contact information at www.scstatehouse.gov.

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